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The original content for this article was contributed by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies in June 2012. It is an excerpt from their course United States Migration Patterns  by Beverly Whitaker, CG. The Institute offers over 200 comprehensive genealogy courses for a fee ($).

World War I

On April 2, 1917, Congress declared war against Germany. Congress passed the Selective Service Act, requiring males between the ages of 20 and 30 (later changed to 18 and 45) to register for military service. By the end of the war, 24 million men had registered. Over 4.8 million serviced in the armed forces, nearly half fighting in France. About 16 percent of the male labor force was drawn into military service, and millions more laborers received deferments from military duty because they worked in war industries or because they had dependents.

In 1918 a world-wide flu epidemic struck the United States, killing more than half a million people. It spread quickly to the army. Thousands of soldiers and sailors died of disease during the war, about 52,000 of them from influenza and pneumonia. By comparison, 51,000 lost their lives in battle.

On the home front, the federal government and private business became partners during the war. About a quarter of American production was diverted to war needs. Gross farm income more than doubled. The severe winter of 1917-1918 brought on near-disaster for the economy due to shortages and mismanagement. Prices of goods escalated. Unionization moved at a fast pace. Women in the work force remained steady throughout the war at about eight million, many in jobs that were formerly dominated by men.

Perhaps one of the most significant trends was that wartime mobilization brought southern blacks into northern cities to work in railroad yards, packing houses, steel mills, shipyards, and coal mines. About a half million black Americans uprooted themselves to move North. Most were young unmarried men under 25, skilled or semi-skilled, seeking economic opportunity. Northern whites who resented this influx of blacks responded with riots; these occurred in East St. Louis, Illinois, in 1917 and in Chicago in 1919. Also affected were Mexican Americans living in California, Texas, and New Mexico. Because they were needed mostly as field laborers, the government exempted agricultural workers from an immigration act which had slowed Mexican migration.

The experience of war brought about a change in America’s place in world affairs which held significance for later generations. America rose to first rank in world trade. The United States switched from a debtor to a creditor nation, becoming the world’s leading banker. Within the nation’s boundaries, awareness grew of the contrasting population from one part of the country to another. Young adults had exposure to persons with vastly different backgrounds. The stage was set for significant changes as the nation entered the modern era.


Information in this Wiki page is excerpted from the online course United States: Migration Patterns offered by The National Institute for Genealogical Studies. To learn more about this course or other courses available from the Institute, see our website. We can be contacted at

We welcome updates and additions to this Wiki page.

  • This page was last modified on 18 September 2014, at 23:45.
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